The Role of Africans in World War 2

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Ethiopian Troops WW2

Ethiopian Patriots in WW2

Thousands of colonized Africans were involuntarily conscripted to fight for the allies during World War 2. Most of the Africans were fighting for the British who were a major colonial power at the time. Most of the Africans recruited by the British came from British East Africa, British Somaliland, British West Africa, the Indian Empire, Northern Rhodesia, Nyasaland, the Mandate of Palestine, South Africa, Southern Rhodesia, Sudan. Ironically, the British claimed to be fighting for freedom but using colonized Africans who they were oppressing in their colonies.

It is estimated that more than 500,000 Africans fought for the British in combat and non-combat roles. Close to 170,000 West Africans were recruited to fight against Mussolini in Ethiopia and Burma to fight the Japanese. France also recruited close to 30,000 Africans from its colonies to fight the Nazi.

Other colonies in the South did not send as many troops because of their proximity to Europe. However, some Africans in then Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) were sent to Burma. In addition, Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) was used for training members of the British air force. In this case, mot Africans were used for support labor to help the British prepare for battle. An estimated 11,000 British troops were trained in present day Zimbabwe.

It is estimated that about 2,500 Africans died in Burma. Participation in the war gave many Africans the ability to ask questions and make demands from their colonial masters. At one of the first United Nations meeting in 1945, Africans participated in a Pan African Conference at which they made the following demands,

“We believe that the African people by their contribution in manpower and material resources in the war against fascism, by their service in Ethiopia, Italy and Burma, have earned the right to expect that they shall benefit as a result of the new concept of international co0operation which has been acquired in the course of the grim ordeal of the war of liberation against fascism.”

Africans who returned from Europe after World War Two brought with them the ideals of freedom for which they had fought. This led to the early roots of the struggle for independence in many African countries.

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